Sen. Salazar Lauds Passage of Final Defense Authorization Act/ Includes Pinon Canyon and Pueblo Chemical Depot Provisions
Tonight, the Senate approved, for the second time, the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4986) by a vote of 91 to 3 and will send it to the President for his signature. Earlier this year, both the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the Defense Authorization Act, but it was vetoed at the eleventh hour by the President in late December.
Senator Salazar worked to include several amendments in the bill, including amendments that will help curb encroachment around military bases, address Army expansion at Pinon Canyon, and hold DOD's feet to the fire in completing weapons destruction at the Pueblo Chemical Depot. The final bill is expected to be brought up in both the House and Senate for final passage before the end of the year. It would then be sent to the President's desk for his signature.
"I am pleased that upon our return to Washington, we were able to pass the Defense Authorization Bill so quickly," said Senator Salazar. "This legislation is critical to our military installations in Colorado and to supporting our troops and their families. I am especially proud that we were able to include a number of provisions in this bill that will directly and positively affect Colorado's military families and the missions of our military installations. I am eager for the President to sign this bill into law."
I. CURBING ENROACHMENT NEAR MILITARY INSTALLATIONS LIKE BUCKLEY, SCHRIEVER AND PETERSON AIR FORCE BASES: The conference report includes an amendment by Senator Salazar directing the Department of Defense to develop and present a legislative proposal to further address the military installation encroachment problem (to be presented to Congress when the President submits the budget for Fiscal Year 2009), and to provide to Congress by March 1, 2008 a report on what steps the DoD has taken to address the issues.
Military installations, ranges and airspace throughout the country have been constrained by increased development, population growth and loss of habitat on non-military lands. To address this problem, in 2002 Congress gave the Secretary of Defense the authority to work with government and private partners to establish buffer zones to protect training and testing areas. The Secretary of Defense implemented this authority by creating the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI).
A recent DOD report and a RAND corporation report indicated that the REPI project could be further strengthened with additional resources, policy changes and commitment from the services. To help implement the recommendations of these reports, Senator Salazar added an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act which will:
* Ensure that the Department of the Air Force takes full advantage of its authority to address encroachment, particularly regarding military airspace;
* Require that each of the services develop additional policy guidance for further REPI implementation;
* Direct the services to give emphasis to regional, landscape scale partnerships and initiatives;
* Give greater emphasis to protecting biodiversity and effective cooperation and collaboration with other federal land managing agencies on matters of mutual concern;
Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne recently announced that the Air Force would implement a pilot program in Colorado, as suggested by Senator Salazar, to address encroachment at Peterson AFB, Schriever AFB, and Buckley AFB.
II. PINON CANYON MANEUVER SITE: Colorado Senators Salazar and Allard added an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act, which was retained in the conference report, requiring the Army to provide a report on any justification for the expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. It would require the Army to address he following questions:
* Is there a need for expansion, given the 2005 BRAC Commission finding that Fort Carson has sufficient training land to support its needs?
* Is the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site being used to capacity? How can the Army better use the existing land at PCMS to meet its training needs?
* If the Army needs additional land to train Fort Carson units, can it use other federal lands or land at other installations?
* If the Army added land to PCMS, what training capacity would be added to Fort Carson?
* If the Army were to expand PCMS, what economic benefits would it provide to local communities and how could the ranching heritage of Southeastern Colorado be preserved?
The amendment requires the Army to provide answers to these questions and to solicit public input on its report. In addition, the amendment directs the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review the Army's report and justification for expansion. This provision is in addition to an amendment that Senator Salazar and Representatives John Salazar and Marilyn Musgrave were able to include in the Military Construction and Veterans Administration Appropriations Bill that secures a one-year moratorium on expansion at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS).
III. CREATING A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR STATION/NORAD: In February, 2006, a study was conducted to see how to save costs and maximize efficiencies at Cheyenne Mountain. The centerpiece of the proposal was placing Cheyenne Mountain on "warm standby." This means that Cheyenne Mountain would no longer be a day to day operations center, but would be able to function as an operational back-up and training site. NORAD/USNORTHCOM is already beginning the "transformation" to Peterson, which will eventually involve a shift of 150 personnel.
In May, the GAO released a report on the "Full Costs and Security Implications of Cheyenne Mountain Realignment" that had the following conclusions and recommendations:
* NORAD/USNORTHCOM cannot provide documentation to support the $150 million to $200 million/year savings.
* NORAD/USNORTHCOM has not done an analysis of the operational effects - positive and negative - of the move from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson AFB.
* NORAD/USNORTHCOM has not completed an assessment of the security implications of the move and of the projected costs to address security deficiencies at Peterson AFB.
The conference report includes Senator Salazar's amendment requiring the Secretary of Defense to provide Congress with documentation describing the operational benefits of the transformation, along with an assessment of any costs or cost-savings associated with the move. The conference report also withholds $5 million from the "transformation" until Congress receives answers from the Secretary of Defense to the questions in Senator Salazar's amendment. The Air Force must also prepare a plan to rehabilitate aging infrastructure to allow for a continued mission at the Cheyenne Mountain Air Station.
IV. Expanding Access to Paralympic programs for Wounded Warriors: Senator Salazar's amendment, which was retained in the conference report, allows the Department of Defense Office of Special Events to provide support for certain Paralympic programs that involve veterans or military personnel. Currently, they can only provide support for international Paralympic events that include more than 500 participants. The amendment allows DOD to provide transportation, logistical support or funding for the Paralympic Military Program, along with national and international Paralympic competitions that have more than 100 participants. Most of these events include military participants, and DOD support for each event is at the discretion of the Secretary. Two examples of how Colorado will benefit:
1. The USOC holds Paralympic Military Program camps around the country, including in Colorado Springs, through which they bring veterans and military personnel to train and compete for five days.
2. The 2009 Paralympic Alpine Skiing World Cup will be held in Aspen (February 2009). The competition will include 200 athletes from 40 Nations. Without the support of DOD OSE, Challenge Aspen may not be able to pull the event together.
V. SETTING A HARD DEADLINE FOR CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION AT THE PUEBLO CHEMICAL DEPOT: Senators McConnell, Salazar, Allard and Bunning succeeded in including an amendment in the 2008 Defense Appropriations Act, which has already been signed into law, that sets a hard deadline of 2017 for destroying the weapons stockpile at Pueblo, halting the Pentagon's practice of permitting the completion date for destruction of the chemical weapons at Pueblo to continue to slip. The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act strengthens that provision by requiring the Department of Defense to provide semiannual reports on the measures and funding required to meet the hard deadline of December 31, 2017. The 2017 would only be enforced if the Department of Defense fails to meet the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty deadline of 2012 as currently required.
VI. PROVIDING BETTER TRAINING FOR HELICOPTER PILOTS AT THE HIGH ALTITUDE AVIATION TRAINING SITE: The High-Altitude Army National Guard (ARNG) Aviation Training Site (HAATS) in Gypsum, Colorado is the only facility in the Nation where helicopter pilots can learn power management skills in high altitude, mountainous terrain. Pilots from around the world come to HAATS for a week of intense training that teaches them to operate their helicopters routinely and safely in the high, hot and heavy environments that they will find in Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, the Army has a "Bring your own helicopter" policy, which requires that crews fly their helicopter to Colorado to receive training at HAATS. This practice is expensive and limits the number of pilots who are able train at the facility.
Senator Salazar's amendment, which was included in the final conference report, requires the Army to review its high-altitude and power management training requirements and the costs of transporting helicopters to and from HAATS. It also requires the Army to examine the potential cost-savings and operational benefits of permanently stationing 6 additional helicopters at HAATS: 2 UH-60 (Blackhawk) 2 CH-47 (Chinook) and 2 LUH-72 (Lakota).